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418RE: [biblicalapologetics] Genesis genealogies, old-earth creationism, and the Big Debate

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  • Jeff Koenig
    Oct 1, 2004
      comments below.
      -----Original Message-----
      From: Robert Bowman [mailto:robertbowman@...]
      Sent: Thursday, September 30, 2004 9:54 PM
      To: biblicalapologetics@yahoogroups.com
      Subject: [biblicalapologetics] Genesis genealogies, old-earth creationism, and the Big Debate


      You wrote:

      << The structure in all other biblical genealogies leaves room for some
      gaps, but the structure of Gen. 5 and 11 appears not to.  Each should be
      interpreted according. >>

      I have already explained why the structure of Genesis 5 and 11 does “leave
      room for some gaps.” The logic of my argument has run something like this:

            a. Gaps are possible.
            b. Evidence of gaps exists.
            c. Therefore, gaps are likely.

      To establish (a), all I need to do is show that any apparent proofs that
      there are no gaps fall short of actual proof. I think I have done this. The
      one proof that you have mentioned of no gaps is the fact that the
      genealogies give the age of each patriarch when he “begat” the next
      individual in the chain. To refute this, I have shown why this does not
      necessarily refer to a father begetting his immediate son; I have pointed
      out evidence in the genealogies that distinguish immediate sons from others
      in the genealogies; and I have given a plausible explanation for the
      inclusion of this information in the genealogies. What more could be needed?

      To establish (b), I have pointed to internal evidences from the genealogies
      themselves (the evidence of literary arrangement and selectivity) as well as
      the external evidence of historical inquiry (some of which you acknowledge
      as a difficulty for your view). 
      If you think a,b,c is a sound syllogism, I would beg to differ.  c does not follow from a and b.  All that follows from a and b are that gaps are possible.  the fact that there is evidence or support for a proposition (a) doesn't make it likely.   
      when we have a text with two possible interpretations, we just need to list the reasons supporting each to see which interpretation is better (more likely correct, what the author intended).  going deeper, we would consider counter-reasons (responses to the various arguments on the other side).  and also we'd have to consider whether the two interpretations are really both "possible."  For instance, we might have a rule of interpretation that say: when a possible interpretation of a doubtful text is inconsistent with a clearly established doctrine that is important and supported by many texts, then that doubtful interpretation should be rejected, even if, viewing the two interpretations in isolation that interpretation seems to have stronger support.
      What you have done is provide some arguments in favor of interpretation a.  I've given arguments in favor of interpretation b. Maybe we've given some responses to the reasons proposed by the other.  No one has "proven" anything.  I tend to thing that, leaving aside the historical evidence suggesting no flood could have happened before say 3000 BC or maybe 10,000 or 20,000 BC, focusing solely on the bible, the b interpretation is the better one, more likely correct.  In my view, you have only shown that the a interpretation is possible, which is nice, since if the history turns out absolutely to preclude a flood at 2500 BC I'd rather have a difficult interpretation and a clear contradiction in the Bible. 

      You wrote:

      << Suppose that my interpretation happened to give, say, 6,000 years between
      flood and Abram.  Wouldn't you accept it then?  I think the extrinsic
      concerns are driving your interpretation.  The most natural interpretation
      is no gaps. >>

      The most “natural” interpretation, or at least what many people think is the
      most natural interpretation, is often wrong. Besides, I think the most
      natural interpretation of the Genesis genealogies is that they are not
      intended to tell us how many years passed from the Flood to Abram (or from
      Adam to Abram). 
      By default, I tend to favor the most "natural" interpretation of any text.  I'll go for a less likely interpretation when necessary (i.e., when there are strong reasons for thinking the less natural interpretation is correct, such as extrinsic doctrinal constraints). 

      If interpreting the genealogies as having no gaps happened to coincide with
      a reasonable estimate of the actual time that passed from the first to the
      last generation named, then, of course, I would conclude that the genealogy
      evidently has no gaps, or at least few if any gaps. The fact that I expect a
      sound interpretation of the biblical text to cohere with the physical and
      historical facts does not embarrass me in the least. 
      So, finally, you agree that "of course" you would accept a view close to mine (no gaps, or just a few) but for the extrinsic considerations (physical and historical facts, as you put it).  As discussed in this email, though, we have to consider how strong the physical and historical facts or "science" on the point in question to determine how much weight should be given to them in support of interpretation a or b (for any text).  hence, the "weight" of carbon dating might be mitigated somewhat if there are serious questions about its accuracy.  if the fact of continuous secular history since 3000 without a flood is super-solid, that would weigh heavily for the gap interpretation of Gen. 11.  This still fits into my schema of two possible interpretations with competing "reasons" with various weights.

      When Joshua 10:12-13 refers to both the sun and the moon stopping in the
      sky, this implies if taken literally that both the sun and the moon are
      normally moving around the earth. It just so happens that this is literally
      true of the moon but not of the earth. So I conclude that the statement can
      be literally true of the moon but not of the earth. Does this mean that
      “extrinsic concerns” are “driving” my interpretation? Putting it that way
      would be prejudicial. What drives my interpretation is my desire to do full
      justice to both the internal evidence of the text and the external evidence
      of the facts of nature and history. In this instance, I assume you will
      agree with me. That’s why I asked my third question (see further below).
      Where you have decided to accept external evidences as overturning certain
      literal, “natural” interpretations of the Bible, you use the same
      hermeneutical approach that I do. 
      I don't think the Joshua text is a good example for the type of issue we are dealing with.  the natural interpretation is that the text is speaking phenomenally and not even addressing the issue of how the solar system is organized.  perhaps it may be viewed as a "difficulty" that we would want to explain, but my approach would not be to show that the text is scientifically accurate.  there is no real need for that, since the text is not is not talking about the solar system.  the literal, natural interpretation of the text is that the sun stood still in the sky, didn't set when it normally would have, gave them extra time to mop up the enemy.  now, knowing what we know now, we can see that this was a miracle that involved stopping the earth from turning, rather than the sun from going round the earth.  no problem with explaining that to someone.  but it is not the kind of interpretive problem we have been dealing with in Gen. 11.

      You wrote:

      << I don't know enough about ancient history to be certain that there is no
      possibility of a flood in 2500 B.C.  But lets suppose it is out of the
      question.  Then I would accept your interpretation as the best one
      available, but recognizing that it is not the most natural interpretation of
      the text itself (apart from extrinsic considerations).  Similarly, suppose
      it is certain that the earth is millions or even billions or years old. 
      Then I would accept that the days in Gen. 1 are ages, or perhaps a
      "framwork" literary interpretation, but recognizing that the literal 24-hour
      day interpretation is the most natural. >>

      I’m happy to hear this, since once again it shows that we agree on the basic
      hermeneutical issue. At least, I *think* we do. Later in your post, I become
      unsure; see below.

      Regarding my reasons for thinking the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 have
      gaps, I had said that you “dismissed” them. You replied:

      << I'm not just dismissing what you have said.  I've stated my reasons for
      thinking that the no-gap interpretation is the most natural.  I suppose I
      could talk about some of the points you've raised that I haven't addressed,
      e.g., the number of names on the lists in Gen 4 vs. 5, similarities of
      names, patterns, etc. >>

      These are precisely the points that you said were “weak” and that I wanted
      you to address. You continued:

      << But I'm still entitled to my opinion. >>

      Of course you are! No one suggested otherwise.

      You wrote:

      << Like the rest of Genesis, I think the genealogies are intended to be
      taken literally. >>

      The issue is what one means by “literally.” I think we can interpret
      Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus “literally” without denying that it has gaps,
      as long as what we mean by “literally” is sound grammatical-historical
      interpretation. In that sense, I take the genealogies in Genesis
      “literally,” too. 

      You wrote:

      << The things you point to can be explained in other ways without resorting
      to a literary/non-historical interpretation.  Gen. 5 doesn't "feel" to me
      like a poem or something other than straightforward history. >>

      “Literary” is not the same thing as “non-historical.” I have never denied
      that the genealogies are historically accurate. Nor did I characterize the
      genealogies as anything “like a poem.” I simply asserted that they have
      gaps, which all or nearly all genealogies in the Bible have.

      You wrote:

      << If the ages of the fathers when their sons were born were not given I'd
      have a lot less trouble viewing the genealogies somewhat like Matthew,
      accurate, but not necessarily complete, opting for literary symmetry over
      completeness, etc. >>

      You wouldn’t accept it if someone described your interpretation of Matthew’s
      genealogy as non-historical and poetic, would you? If not, why are you
      characterizing my view of the Genesis genealogies in that way? 
      Because the Matthew text does not give the ages of each father when each son was born, and make clear that in several of the cases there could not possibly be gaps, and occur in the context of a book or pair of books that gives enough numbers of years to allow counting back from the exodus exactly to the birth of Abraham, without any gaps, mainly by giving the age of a father at the time his son was born (plus 430 for the sojourn in Egypt), and occur in a book that purports to explain the creation and origin of the world and the links between the first man and Abraham, etc.
      From what I know of it, the framework view of Gen. 1 is not really literal.  More like a poetic interpretation.  the successive days are not viewed as literally the order of the creation, even though that is what Gen. 1 purports or seems to teach.  I'm willing to accept gen. 11 with some gaps as a "literal" interpretation, but based on the text of gen. and exodus, the no-gap interpretation seems far more likely.  as noted above, I'll accept the less natural, less likely interpretation in a pinch. 

      You wrote:

      << But the ages are there, and for a reason.  My comment that your reasons
      are weak is my conclusion, based on a good deal of analysis, not just a bare
      dismissal.  Don't take it personally. >>

      I’m not taking it personally. I’m simply pointing out that you have yet to
      *show* how any of this analysis refutes the arguments I presented. If you
      don’t wish to do so, that’s your decision. You are free to think what you
      want and to address what you want.

      I asked:

      “3. So I can understand your approach to biblical interpretation in matters
      like this one, please tell me how you would explain why the Bible does not
      teach that the sun (normally) moves, though God supernaturally stopped it on
      one occasion (Josh. 10:12-13; Eccl. 1:5), while the earth stands still and
      never moves (Ps. 104:5; 119:90; Ecc. 1:4).”

      You replied:

      << I'd take the sun standing still and phenomenal.  That is how it appeared
      to the author and/or the witnesses.  We would use similar expressions today
      to describe such an event even knowing more than the author of Joshua knew
      about the solar system.  Same with poetic statements about the earth being
      firm or unmoved.  Those are no problem.  I don't take a hyper-literal
      approach. >>

      Is it not true, though, that “extrinsic concerns” are “driving” your choice
      to construe these statements non-literally? 
      I don't think so, since I don't think the author intended to say anything about the structure of the solar system or whether the sun and moon were revolving around the earth or anything of the sort.  he was just saying the sun hung there in the sky and didn't set as usual, a miracle. 

      You wrote:
      << Suppose there were some texts that could be interpreted as supporting a
      geocentric system.  Those texts, though, were also amenable to alternative
      interpretations (that they were figures of speech, not meant to address the
      structure of our system, phenomenal, etc.).  While the science was in doubt,
      I'd take the view that the texts are equivocal.  (If Galileo turns our to be
      right based on further observation, then our prior interpretation of those
      texts must have been wrong).  As the science became more clear, I'd move
      over to the correct interpretation.  I'd try to avoid reading my
      presuppositions into the text. >>

      I worry, then, that you would have opposed Galileo during his lifetime.
      After all, you could have claimed that most astronomers disagreed with
      Galileo (they did during his lifetime) and that the images seen through the
      telescope fell short of removing all doubt (which was true, since so many
      I would have said that the texts in question are unclear, so let Galileo and his pals continue there investigations.  If they wind up proving the sun is the center (or centered on the focus of an ellipse) then we'll know our prior interpretation was incorrect.  In the process they'll help discovery the wisdom and power of God.  Nothing to fear, since God's word is true.  If there is an apparent contradiction, then our interpretation of the word might be off, or the "science" might be off, or some combination.

      You wrote:

      << But I'm not sure that this approach woudl apply across the board.  There
      is a big difference between observational facts, like the earth being a near
      globe and revolving around the sun, etc. and much more speculative putative
      verities of science (like biological evolution, the big bang, 14.5 billion
      year old universe, etc.).  I don't think we're anywhere near being sure
      enough about the age of the universe or evolution to warrant opting for a
      very unnatural interpretation of Gen. 1.  And I doubt we'll ever be in that
      position by the nature of the case (since science can't observe the big bang
      or the billions of years in the same way it can observe the earth revolving
      around the sun). >>

      I didn’t bring up these issues here, but since you did, I will address them
      briefly. When you look through a telescope with the proper filter at the
      sun, you are directly observing the sun as it was eight minutes previously.
      When you look at Pluto, you are directly observing it as it was over five
      hours ago. When you look at the nearest star (other than the sun), you are
      directly observing it as it was four years ago.

      Now, our own Milky Way galaxy contains hundreds of billions of stars. We
      know this from direct observation. We have also observed enough of the
      galaxy to know that it takes the relatively flat spiral shape with which we
      are all familiar (and that is similar to other galaxies that we can see
      through very powerful telescopes). We can observe, and we know this must be
      so, that the stars are fairly well spread out at distances similar to those
      in our region (that is, stars typically are a couple of light-years or more
      away from each other). And we know that our own sun sits toward the outer
      edge of the galaxy. From this information alone, we can deduce what
      astronomers observe to be the case, namely, that the stars farthest away
      from us in our own galaxy (let alone in other galaxies) are more than
      100,000 light-years away. That means that when we look at stars at the far
      side of the galaxy, we are directly observing them as they were 100,000
      years or more ago. 
      I'm with you till the word "deduce."  Before that, you're talking facts of observation.  But the "deduction" you make has some built-in assumptions that might be wrong.  Could be light traveled faster at some time in the past, so the stars are not as old as they appear.  Or could be God created the photons in transit (though that opens to an accusation that God created in a way to deceive us).  I personally doubt that the galaxy is that old.  I think God created it in an instance, only a few thousand years ago, based mainly on the text of Gen. 1, and on the speculative nature of the "deduction" you make and similar deductions by others (re the big bang).  There is a big difference between such "deductions" and actual observational facts.

      Is this the same thing as directly observing the big bang itself, or knowing
      from direct observation that the universe is 14.5 billion years old? No. But
      it is the same thing, in principle, as directly observing that the earth and
      the other planets move around the sun in elliptical orbits. And what we
      directly observe as to the stars even in our own galaxy flatly contradicts
      the belief that the earth is only six thousand years old. 
      So I take it you view the days as ages in Gen. 1.  Are you a fan of Hugh Ross?  Have you read Sarfati's polemic? Do you take the flood also to be local, or worldwide?

      You wrote:
      << Another consideration is how clear the teaching of scripture is on the
      point in question.  If there were just one or two vague, ambiguous or
      equivocal verses in the bible about God having created the universe, it
      would be much less of a problem to interpret those verses in a way that is
      consistent with current scientific consensus (allowing for the possibility
      that the consensus could change).  But instead we have a lot of verses,
      Jesus quoting from Gen. 2, etc., so the weight of the science would have to
      be much more to force a possible but non-natural interpretation. >>

      We “have a lot of verses” that show that God created the world, that he
      created humans in his image, and so forth. We do not have even one verse
      that says that God created the world six thousand years ago. That is an
      inference from a few passages in Genesis 1-11 and one or two later
      references to the “six days.” The church in Galileo’s day had more biblical
      passages that seemed to support more explicitly a geocentric system than
      young-earth creationists have to support a thousands-of-years old creation. 
      My statement was on hermeneutics, not specifically whether the best interpretation of gen 1 - 11 is a young earth.  again, i don't accept your analogy to verses suggesting the sun revolves around the earth. 

      You wrote:

      << I don't think my arguments re Gen. 11 are really the same as or on a par
      with arguments for an earth-centered system based on a couple of equivocal
      poetic verses.  There is a lot more reason to take Gen. 11 literally, based
      on the internal structure.  Some very intelligent people have come to the
      same basic conclusion re the age of the earth, based on the text (including
      Luther, Melanthon, Newton, Ussher, Wesley etc.).  Saying that the passage in
      Joshua supports a geocentric system is just silly.  But interpreting the
      genealogies as providing a chronology of the earth is not. >>

      I have not questioned the intelligence of those Christians; I have not
      questioned anyone’s intelligence. But at least one of those same men thought
      that the Bible taught geocentrism. Luther, most famously, ridiculed
      Copernicus. So, intelligent Christians can be seriously mistaken in such
      Their interpretation helps us see what is the most natural interpretation apart from attempts to reconcile the test with the supposed findings of modern geology, which didn't exist yet when they considered the text. 

      Nor have I suggested that your view of the genealogies is silly. I simply
      disagree with it.

      You wrote:
      << Part of what is driving your interpretation of the genaologies is your
      view that there were cities occupied since 8,000 BC continuously.  I'd be a
      lot more sceptical about that, since the dating schemes, using C14,
      comparisons of pottery schards, etc., have a lot of room for presuppositions
      that could be wrong, guesswork, etc. >>

      Let’s face it: if the evidence supports human beings living on the earth
      before about 4200 BC, we have to conclude that the genealogies have gaps
      (assuming we stick with the ages given in the Hebrew text). One can quibble
      with the dating methods only so much. I sympathize with you; in college (at
      a secular university), I wrote papers defending the young-earth position,
      including one that tried to poke holes in the dating methods. But the fact
      is that the general shape of the conventional ages for the different periods
      of human history is well established. Scientists have at their disposal a
      variety of methods for measuring geochronology and human prehistory.
      Scientists correlate carbon-14, dendrochronology, and other methods with one
      another and find them confirming the overall picture of human beings living
      on earth for well over ten thousand years. Again, I once disputed the
      validity of these dating methods, just as you do, but eventually I
      understood that the criticisms I was repeating from young-earth advocates
      like Morris and Gish simply do not hold up. 
      Going back to about 3000, we're talking history.  Before that pre-history.  The history involves the remnants of actual civilizations, lists of kings, ruins of buildings, etc.  The pre-history dating is based more on Carbon 14 dating, matching up pottery shards with other cites, etc.  The certainty level seems far lower to me. 

      You wrote:
      << Part of what is driving people like Hugh Ross to opt for a local flood
      and day-ages in gen. 1 is the supposed verities of science, but much of the
      science in question is highly speculative, not observational.  Meanwhile the
      texts he is re-interpreting are quite clear (e.g., Moses'
      almost obsessive reiteration re universality of the flood, Peter's and
      Jesus' references that clearly assume a worldwide cataclysm, etc.).  I think
      Ross probably is putting science (speculative science) above scripture. >>

      You’re expanding the discussion far beyond our original topic of the
      genealogies. I have already given you an example of the observational basis
      for the old-age view of creation. And I would remind you that even renowned
      young-earth creationists like Henry Morris have acknowledged gaps in the
      genealogies. Hugh Ross is doing exactly what you do when faced with passages
      that seem to teach geocentrism: rethink their meaning. You can disagree with
      his conclusions, but he is not putting science above Scripture. 
      You seem to be basing too much on a faulty analogy (the gen. 11 issue vs. earth-centered-system verses).  Ross is re-interpreting texts that are much clearer (i.e.,there are very strong reasons for thinking the flood was worldwide, based on the text, and that the days were literal 24-hour days).  Also, he is motivated by science that is very speculative (like string theory, the big-bang, 14 billion year old earth, etc.).  There is a big difference between accepting the possibility of some gaps in Gen. 5 and 11, maybe stretching out from 4100 B.C. to 10,000 or 20000 BC, and stuffing in billions of years (most of them presumably before the creation of Adam). 

      You wrote:

      << Some of his conclusions are even based on the very most speculative
      theories (like string theory).  I think it is silly, and wrong, to attempt
      to re-interpret the doctrine of the trinity or God on the basis of
      such farout speculations. It is likely to lead to serious error.  (William
      Lane Criag has pointed out that Ross' doctrine of God based on string theory
      is heterodox).  I understand that there have been some direct discussions at
      ETS involving Craig and Ross, my source telling me that it was evident that
      Ross was placing science above scripture.  I've looked at one of Ross' book,
      and Sarfati's polemic, and found the latter far more convincing. >>

      I have known Hugh Ross for twenty years. Your source is mistaken. Hugh views
      the facts of nature and the teachings of Scripture as both fully reliable
      sources of information. He rejects the view that science should take
      precedence over the Bible. 
      I think his respect for the speculations of modern science has led him into error in his interpretations re Gen. 1 and the flood.  I don't recall all the details of his speculations about the nature of God based on string theory, but I recall agreeing with Craig's critique.   I may be wrong about how long ago the flood was, but I think the bible is well nigh unequivocal that it was a worldwide cataclysm that covered the mountains and killed every human.  This is based on the Gen. text, and largely on what Jesus and Peter said about the flood.
      I don't think science and the Bible are on a par.  Much of science is highly speculative.  Even the observational things that seem solid may turn out to be inaccurate.  If the Bible is clear that the world was created in a week, then Carl Sagan's speculations to the contrary carry little weight.  Not even in the same ballpark, until his views are established with certitude (which I think is just impossible).  Where the text is clear, and the science is highly speculative, I go with the text.  Taking an even steven approach in those circumstances is bound to lead to error. 

      Where Scripture is ambiguous or open to more than one interpretation, and
      the evidence from nature or history is very strongly against the more
      “literalistic” interpretation, I will go with the interpretation that
      coheres with the physical facts. Earlier in your post, you said you agreed
      with this approach. I understand that you don’t see or accept the scientific
      or historical evidence against a 6,000-year-old creation. That doesn’t mean
      that those of us who do find such evidence are putting science over the
      Bible. For example, I reject evolutionism, even though most scientists
      accept it. Hugh Ross, likewise, rejects evolutionism, and he focuses his
      efforts on defending creation against naturalism.  

      As for Hugh’s explanation of the doctrine of the Trinity, you are confusing
      an analogy with a doctrine. Hugh’s doctrine of the Trinity is orthodox. His
      analogy or theoretical construct for understanding the doctrine can be
      interpreted in a heterodox way, as I have personally told him. This was
      essentially Bill Craig’s point as well, as I recall. Hugh is sensitive to
      this concern. I do not think you would be attacking his explanation of the
      Trinity as “silly” if it were not for his old-earth creationism. 
      I think it is a little silly (or worse) to think that speculations about string theory should be given any weight against what the Bible teaches about the nature of God, or even to help understand what God has revealed in Scripture about his nature.  I'm too tired right now to dredge up his book and Craig's article to refresh on just how "off" his statements might have been.
      Why assume that I'd be unfair with Ross, that I'd attack his explanation of the Trinity just because I disagreed with his old-earthism?  Fact is I bought his book after a fellow I know recommended him, but thought his stuff about string theory and the trinity was off, so found Craig's article on the internet.  I'm not a Ross expert, since I've only read one of his books, and the Sarfati polemic, but judging from the doubtful things he said about the trinity based on string theory, and his view of the flood and day-agism, I think he is giving too much weight to speculative science, and throwing over well-supported interpretations of the bible too lightly.  1,000 years from now, when the big bang is passé and speculative cosmology has morphed into who knows what, Ross' attempt to harmonize Christianity and science by accepting strained interpretations of the Bible's texts re creation and the flood, may indeed look silly.  But who knows, maybe Christ will return and we'll find out that the seemingly unlikely interpretations were correct, and that the universe really is about 14 billion years old.  I doubt I'll change my view on the six-day creation or world-wide flood till then. And if I turn out to have been wrong, at least I'll be vindicated in my view that Christ will only return at the end of the tribulation and establish a literal 1,000 year kingdom.

      In Christ's service,

      Robert M. Bowman, Jr.
      Center for Biblical Apologetics
      Online: http://www.biblicalapologetics.net

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